By Charles Brande
-- It has taken me several years to put this story to words. My best friend Derek Miller and I have known each other since we were 6. We grew up hunting and fishing together all over North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia. If you saw one of us, the other one was generally close by. In the 34 years since we met, we’ve enjoyed the bounty and beauty Jesus Christ blessed us with.
In November of 1993, Derek and I went to Caswell County, N.C., for the first day of muzzleloader season. Derek was equipped with his .50 cal. Thompson Center Hawken, and I had my .54 cal. TC Renegade — traditional blackpowder hunting was our thing. We were on the North Carolina Wildlife Game lands, a muzzleloader-season tradition we had carried on for years.
It was about 26 degrees that morning, and we arrived at about 4:45 a.m. The spot we hunted was about a mile into the woods. We had our usual snacks: Red Delicious apples and Coca-Cola. As we made our way in, we spooked quite a few deer and disturbed some turkey’s roosting in the pine trees.
Derek and I always hunted together on the ground. We both sat on a ledge with our backs to a huge white oak tree. He would cover the right side of the hills, and I covered the left. By 8 o’clock, we had already had two does come by, and it looked like a promising day. I started to doze off a little, but the wind woke me up just in time to catch a glimpse of a 9-pointer about 40 yards in front of me.
I felt a sharp jab to my ribs and heard, "Are you gonna shoot it or choke on your own drool?"
I was freezing, but the shaking was from buck fever. I looked at Derek and said, "I only have a neck shot." Derek put his sights on the buck’s chest, and I held on its neck. We agreed to shoot at the count of three.
The results weren’t exactly what we expected. My shot clipped one of the buck’s brow tines, and Derek’s bullet ended up exploding the bucks femoral artery. I watched as the it tried to spin and run, but its back end wasn’t cooperating.
I immediately began a frantic reload while Derek realized he had left his possibles bag in the truck. Imagine my surprise when he took off after the buck with an old-time sheath knife. The buck wasn’t about to go quietly and turned at Derek’s approach. As I finished reloading, I heard Derek scream, "Get down here! Get down here right now!"
As I approached I couldn’t believe my eyes. There was my best friend with a big knife in his right hand, face to face a with a mad whitetail buck with its ears laid back, head lowered and hair standing up on its back. The buck was making a sound like a snort-wheeze and a growl mixed together — it meant business.
Derek put a tree between himself and the deer, all the while trying to stab the buck. Meanwhile, I was yelling for Derek to get out of the way.
He finally realized I was there are ready to shoot and backed out. My .54 boomed through the woods, and the shot took the buck in the chest.
I sat down with a sigh of relief. Derek was shaking, and I looked at him and said, "He just about got you, didn’t he?"
Slowly, he shook his head yes. As we were field-dressing the deer, two more bucks and four does ran right by us. It was a perfect example of the crazy kind of adventures Derek and I shared regularly, but I think that one bonded us together more than any other.
I wish I could thank Derek, whom I came to call my brother, for all of the memories we have shared over the years. Unfortunately, he was murdered in October of 2005. I miss him every day.
While I wish I would have told Derek how much his friendship meant to me, I’ve come to realize that the best way I can honor his memory is to pass on the hunting and fishing tradition to my sons and my daughter. Look around enjoy the beauty God has created for us. Take it in and never take it for granted.
Pleasant Garden, N.C.
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